The summer’s end is here again, and today I’ve fended off the encroaching cold by making soup and wrapping myself up in my favourite scarf and my autumn sweater.
Before I tuck in though, time for an entirely nostalgic recap. September marks the end of my first year here in London and while it’s starting to feel like home, I can’t help but be reminded each time I glance from my window on a sunny day to see the pods of the London Eye twinkling like silver baubles, or lie on the grass outside the Tate Modern gazing across at St Paul’s as I eat my lunch, that I’m living in the centre of one big tourist attraction. And that’s no bad thing.
While I’m at my happiest and most relaxed in the countryside or the wilderness, there’s so much scope for exploration and adventure in this city, and with some brilliant friends at my side, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months. So here’s the tale of my first summer in London, as captured by my iPhone.
The south bank holds a special place in my heart. I remember it even from my first stint of work experience in London when I was 16 — in particular the second-hand book market under Waterloo Bridge, which is somewhere I return time and again. Over the past year though, the stretch of river between London Bridge and the Hungerford Bridge has become my stomping ground.
Nipping down to the wonderful food stalls in my lunch hour, meeting friends for drinks and dinner after work, thesp-spotting in the green room at the National, playing outdoor ping pong and watching world-class theatre, fetching coffee and truffles from Monmouth, dilly dallying in Borough Market and nabbing all the samples I can lay my hands on, the list of memories just goes on…
I’ve been lucky enough to see Mark Rylance perform twice at the Globe this summer — once as Richard III, and once with Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night. I fully recommend you try to get tickets for the West End transfer if at all possible.
My nights out are usually confined to pubs around Soho and Southwark, but I’ve also roamed from Camden to Hackney to Putney and everywhere in between to enjoy some of London’s more glamourous and fashionable establishments.
Alfresco drinks on the roof terrace at the Trafalgar Hotel might just be one of the most spectacular ways to spend a balmy London evening.
On the odd occasion I’ve even stayed up to see the sun rise.
I love spending time with my family and luckily there have been plenty of them around in London this summer. My cousin and her husband visited from Australia with their two beautiful little girls and I spent a glorious afternoon seeing the sights with them, chasing pigeons and letting them play with my iPhone.
I spent some quality time with my mum, watching the Jubilee flotilla, and gorging on cheese and meat and wine at La Cave a Fromage in Kensington.
We celebrated my little brother’s return from Uganda where he’d been busy saving lives and caring for premature babies (proud sister right here) with pulled pork and picklebacks at the infamous Pitt Cue. And then drinks at the Diner.
The Diner is my go-to Soho eaterie. It serves cheap, hearty Yankee food late into the evening, so is the ideal spot for retiring to if you’ve been out for drinks or at an event with insubstantial canapes and suddenly realise you need sustenance.
Plonk yourself at the bar, in a booth, or outside if it’s a nice day, and order yourself a burger and boozy milkshake (the True Blue with blueberry, Amaretto and vanilla ice cream is my favourite) and perhaps a side of mac and cheese or chilli cheese fries. I think it’s impossible to have a dull time here, partly because you’ll feel like an American teenager in a cheesy eighties movie, and partly because the food, staff and music are just the best.
I’ve been putting some serious work into my quest to discover London’s best burger this summer. I’d heard a rumour that the top slab of minced beef south of the river could be found at the Ship in Wandsworth. I’ll tell you now though, that rumour is false. The burger in question was perfectly adequate, but not a taste sensation and far too expensive. The Ship is off some weird, industrial estate on the river, and on sunny days is packed to the gunwales with people who, to put it kindly, are clearly there to be seen.
If posturing and posing in your finest isn’t your thing, head instead to the Lord Nelson in Southwark and order the Bluesy Lucy or Brixton Market for an honest-to-goodness cheap and delicious hunk of meat with crispy rosemary fries from Honest Burgers (now also in Soho).
I’m very fond of Brixton Village and find it the perfect place to chill out at the weekends. I’ve yet to work my way around all the incredible foodie offerings, but current favourites are the super-friendly French & Grace and Lab G for the exquisite gelato.
Obviously, I got into the Olympic spirit too.
I was lucky enough to be able to watch the fireworks from all the various ceremonies from my bedroom window, as well as see the Olympic torch, go to the men’s volleyball bronze-medal match and even meet some of the heroes from Team GB.
Best of all though was curling up on the sofa with friends and homemade Eton Mess to watch Tom Daley in the diving.
The beauty of living in this city is that even when you’re commuting or en-route somewhere, you’ll always see something that will make you want to stop and get your camera out.
Nearly every Londoner has an opinion on the Shard. It’s hardly like the Olympics or bendy buses though — the Shard is part of the skyline now, and will remain so whatever you may think of it. There’s no hiding from it, no ignoring it and no avoiding it, especially if you live and work in SE London.
It may be imperious, unmoving and incomprehensibly colossal, but it can easily catch you off guard as you turn a corner into a new street, or glance up from your book on the bus to glimpse it from a new angle, or make the mistake of tilting back your head when you emerge from London Bridge and feel a sudden rush of vertigo.
Even if you feel the Shard is more monstrosity than monument, you can’t deny that when it catches the light on a sunny day it certainly takes your breath away.
So there you have it: a very London summer. I’ve had all sorts of adventures elsewhere as well, which I’ll write about in due course, but this city really has come into its own over the past few months, what with the Jubilee and the Olympics and all.
Now when I pootle about on my daily business, the sky may not be as unfamiliar as it once was, but just when I start to feel all territorial and settled, I’ll glance up and everything will look strange and new all over again. Thanks for having me this year London — you’ve been ace. I hope you never lose your power to take me by surprise.